In the world of media today, an ethics code is one of the most important things to follow

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In today’s media world, adherence to an ethics code is crucial. Regrettably, this was not the case for Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith.

Both Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith, former employees of The Boston Globe, engaged in plagiarism and the fabrication of information in order to produce sensational news stories. In this paper, I will examine the unethical behaviors exhibited by Barnicle and Smith, as well as the repercussions they faced personally and the impact it had on The Boston Globe. According to Hoffman, this situation demonstrates the consequences of a company that fails to consistently adhere to its core values and standards (Hoffman 1). The summer of 1998 marked a particularly challenging period for The Boston Globe.

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The Boston Globe, renowned for its thirty-year history and collection of twelve Pulitzer prizes, surpassed even its cross-town competitor, the Boston Herald (Hoffman 1). In 1973, The Globe brought on board writer Mike Barnicle, who focused on documenting the experiences of Boston’s working class.

Including cops, single mothers, gas station owners, elderly immigrants, and young veterans, various individuals encountered problems with Barnicle during his time at the Boston Globe. Early in his career at the Globe, two lawsuits were settled, which claimed that Barnicle had plagiarized quotes from well-known figures. Additionally, Mike Royoko lodged a complaint asserting that Barnicle was duplicating his work.

Several workers at the Globe grew to resent Mike Barnicle and accused him of arrogance. However, just as it seemed that his problems were starting to fade away, on August 1, 1998, Barnicle published a column entitled “I was just thinking…..”

According to a reader who contacted the Boston Herald, it was discovered that several excerpts in Barnicle’s column were taken from George Carlin’s book, Brain Droppings. Therefore, it was determined that the column written by Barnicle was not original. This situation was highly unfavorable for the Boston Globe as their rival had already released the story, simultaneously exposing the previous issues the Globe had experienced with Mike Barnicle.

“The column included 38 one-liners, eight of which were similar to George Carlin’s book without giving credit to Carlin as the source” (Jurkowitz 1). The following comparison presents a excerpt from Barnicle’s actual article and George Carlin’s writings.

The book: “If cockpit voice recorders are so indestructible, why don’t they just build an airplane that’s just one big cockpit voice recorder?” (Carlin; Jurkowitz 3).

The column: “How come planes aren’t made with the same indestructible material used to assemble those black boxes that always survive crashes?” (Barnicle; Jurkowitz 3).

The book titled “People who should be phased out: Guys who wear suits all day and think an earring makes them cool all night” by Carlin and Jurkowitz, as well as the column by Barnicle and Jurkowitz, both discuss men over forty who believe wearing an earring makes them cool.

Despite Mike Barnicle’s claim that he never read George Carlin’s book, it is clear from this short excerpt that Barnicle derived his column from it. This unethical behavior is not the only instance of Barnicle’s wrongdoing. In 1995, he wrote an article about two families with a child at Children’s Hospital, which was originally shared with him privately and not meant for publication. However, when retelling the story, Barnicle exaggerated and distorted it.

Barnicle claimed that one family gave another family a personal gift of ten thousand dollars after losing a child. However, the actual gift amount was five thousand dollars and it was intended to be used for a scholarship, not a personal gift. Additionally, Barnicle misrepresented the race of the child. When The Boston Globe discovered Barnicle’s actions, they were appalled and promptly demanded his resignation due to allegations of plagiarism and falsification.

Barnicle argues against using the term “plagiarism” and suggests that “laziness or stupidity” may be more appropriate. He requested the Globe to publish one last column allowing him to present his defense.

Barnicle’s request to continue working was rejected, however, he was given the opportunity to write a column in which he announced his resignation. Thus, at the age of fifty-four in August of 1998, Barnicle chose to resign. Within his resignation column, he mentions, “I was forced to resign this August due to my inability to promptly provide sources for a 1995 column that included dialogue I had not personally witnessed.” (Barnicle 5)

Barnicle, a Globe veteran of 25 years, expressed his satisfaction with the company but felt it was time to explore new opportunities. Regrettably, the problems at the Globe were not limited to Barnicle’s experience; Patricia Smith, another employee, also encountered similar difficulties despite her relatively short tenure. Nevertheless, Patricia had already managed to build a solid reputation.

She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and had been working at the Globe. There were signs that she was fabricating information, but the paper chose not to address the matter. Her columns resonated with readers, touching them emotionally and making them proud. O’Brien 1.

In 1998, The Boston Globe experienced a second upheaval when Patricia Smith was exposed. Walter Robinson, who served as the Globe’s assistant manager and local news editor at the time, was informed that someone from the copy desk had raised concerns about Smith’s work’s veracity (O’Brien 3).

During this same time period, Walter received a phone call from a reader who had doubts about the existence of a character in a recent column. The column in question was about a man named Ernie Keane from Somerville, Massachusetts who supposedly phoned Smith in the newsroom to talk about President Clinton’s upcoming visit to Boston. Keane allegedly wanted Smith to relay a message to the President, which was written as follows in her column: “I ain’t real smart and I don’t have no fancy words to make folks sit up and take notice. I’m just ordinary, but there are a lot of ordinary folks here getting sick of screaming and no one hearing.”

After reading this article, the Globe conducted their own investigation because our country is supposed to take care of us when we get old. That is our reward for working all these years and living in this so-called democratic place. Just tell him that.” – O’Brien 3.

Despite their efforts to contact the individuals referenced in Smith’s articles, they were unsuccessful. The Globe discovered that in 1986, during her tenure at The Chicago Sun-Times, Smith wrote a critical review of an Elton John concert. She falsely claimed that he wore attire he did not and performed songs he did not play. She also suggested that the audience was displeased, despite promoters asserting that he received a positive reception.

The concert representatives claimed that Smith did not collect her tickets, which Smith denied. After discovering this, the Globe faced another dilemma and arranged a meeting with Smith, informing her of their intention to contact all the individuals mentioned in her stories.

Smith was greatly disturbed by the meeting with Storin and O’Brien, causing her work quality to decline. The Globe examined the situation and verified fifty-two questionable columns dating back to 1995. Based on the evidence, The Globe chose to offer her another opportunity. As a condition, she needed to provide names and phone numbers for the individuals portrayed in her stories for verification purposes.

From the outset, this was unsuccessful. On May 11th, they encountered another dubious story that centered around a cancer patient named Claire. Claire expressed her enthusiasm for a potential cure and talked about newly tested treatments that had shown success in mice.

The Globe was able to debunk her false story by providing evidence. Smith mentioned individuals with licensed professions who should have been traceable. However, since they could not be found, her story was proven to be untrue (O’Brien 7).

The Globe requested Smith to confirm the presence of six individuals, and at that moment she confessed that they were invented. Consequently, Smith was compelled to step down. Prior to her departure, she penned an apology addressed to her column readers, which stated: “Apologizing to you is still possible.”

Occasionally in my Metro column, I would fabricate quotes and falsely attribute them to non-existent individuals in order to make a strong impact or emphasize a crucial point. I could assign them names and even professions, but I could not grant them the one essential thing they lacked—a heartbeat. It is widely recognized that this practice is one of the major ethical violations in journalism. Nevertheless, there are always justifications.

Although it was infrequent, the fact that it happened even once was unacceptable. As stated by O’Brien, “It didn’t happen often, but It did happen and that was one time to many.” However, while Patricia and Mike’s involvement may have concluded, it wasn’t the end for The Boston Globe. The uprising of this ethical scandal posed a significant threat to the newspaper’s integrity and foundation.

According to Alan Dershowitz, a critic of the paper, many people believed that it was not Mike and Patricas’ fault, but rather the fault of the Globe. He stated, “It’s time to focus on Globe higher-ups. They really are to blame.” (Kalb 1)

Anger arose among many workers at the Globe due to the perceived delay in the decision-making process, leading to tension in the workplace. However, others attributed this situation to Patricia and Mike’s breach of trust, causing harm to both the readers and the newspaper itself. Nonetheless, it is believed that the newspaper handled the crisis effectively. Ultimately, maintaining and enforcing consistent ethical standards is crucial for operating an ethical business.

The absence of clear standards is the root cause of the ethical crisis observed at the Globe. Plagiarism’s major consequence lies in readers losing trust in the veracity of any information from the Globe. It is possible that Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith either neglected the rules, assuming they were ever elucidated, or persuaded themselves that their text met the acceptable criteria. The responsibility falls on management to periodically reinforce employees about the principles and values upheld by the company.

The Globe’s management failed Barnicle, Smith, its readers, and itself by not stating or enforcing clear standards. Hoffman 5.

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In the world of media today, an ethics code is one of the most important things to follow. (2018, Jun 10). Retrieved from

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